Launching an innovation program can often feel daunting to anyone and – to a small business – starting an innovation management program can feel completely inaccessible. Who should be responsible? What are the first steps? How can you get to the impact that really matters?

Companies with less than 500 people—those companies that want to create meaningful change in their business—many of the people there aren’t sure that the word “innovation” even applies to what they’re doing. Let me assure you that it does. If you’re investing in the future of your business, if you’re thinking about how to improve your customer experience, iff you’re looking for ways to change things for the better for your employees—then you’re in the business of innovation.

For those companies, I believe that The Credit Union of Colorado offers a really good roadmap for how to get started (and also how to deliver some early results).

  1. Arrive at a shared definition of “innovation” and cultural expectations. For the Credit Union of Colorado, this meant meeting and discussing different word associations, goals, languages and more. They met with leaders and they met with team members and they arrived at their shared values together. In this way – this first exercise is even a gesture at how people will collaborate and share this responsibility together later.
  2. Establish executive support. This meant that the Credit Union of Colorado had leadership backing for the program – someone that they could go to for resources or to remove obstacles to progress. This is absolutely essential and it’s even better if it permeates the entire top level of a company.
  3. Establish an idea management strategy. This strategy includes having some core tenets that everyone agrees to (things like deployment expectations and the role of leadership). It also means defining a place for ideas so that everyone understands the process and the responsibility of participating in the program – oftentimes using idea management software. After all, many ideas age, but oftentimes ideas are evergreen and they’re just waiting for their moment to arrive.
  4. Develop a toolkit for everyone. In this case, the Credit Union of Colorado invested in their emerging leaders by giving them a special project: develop a toolkit that can be used by everyone in the company to develop ideas that would serve both incremental and transformational improvement. What strategies can they use? What training will they need? This project helped mentor and propel their budding leaders forward, but was also an investment in the rest of the company and helped them launch their overall innovation program.

For the Credit Union of Colorado this has generated fantastic results: new programs for their members, improvements to the workplace for the employees, and some even more disruptive that will come into play further down the line.

To hear the full story, listen the full podcast episode here.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.



Featured image via Unsplash.